Saturday, April 10, 2010
Why I Love to Write About Eleanor of Aquitaine
By Christy English
Author of THE QUEEN’S PAWN
I love to write about Eleanor of Aquitaine because she always surprises me. Even though she is an historical figure and the events of her life are set in stone, the character of Eleanor as she comes to life in my novels always shows me something new. On the pages of history books her life was dynamic enough: Duchess of Aquitaine at the age of fifteen, Eleanor finished brokering her own marriage to Louis VII of France. Years later, Eleanor rode at her husband’s side on Crusade, and on her way home, sick of being married to Louis, she began working to annul her marriage. Only months after she earned her freedom, Eleanor married her second husband, Henry of Normandy who became King of England only two years later…and that is just the first half of her life. So you see what I mean when I say Eleanor of Aquitaine was a dynamic woman.
Nothing stopped Eleanor from achieving her goals. For decades, she wanted the County of Toulouse back under the control of her family. After sending both husbands’ out to reclaim it through warfare (and after both men failed), she simply arranged her daughter’s marriage to the Count of Toulouse, effectively putting her family in line to inherit that county, and thus to take control of it once more. Eleanor would wait for years for what she wanted. Tenacious and single minded, she was an amazing politician.
Much to both her husbands’ annoyance: Louis would have been perfectly happy if Eleanor had settled down to raise her princesses quietly, if she had left the political machinations of the day to him. And her second husband, King Henry II of England, married her for her brains and beauty as well as her land, but even he came to regret her brilliance as the years wore on. For after ten years of partnership, Eleanor began to want more power of her own. And in 1173, she reached out for that power, setting her sons against their father so that she might gain indirect control of the duchies of Brittany and Normandy, in addition to the duchy of Aquitaine.
Henry locked Eleanor away in 1174 to keep his crown and to keep his sons at bay. Henry always knew that if he set Eleanor free, she would stop at nothing to take his Continental holdings from him. And she was the one person on Earth who had a fighting chance of doing it; so he kept her locked away for fifteen years, until his death.
Once Henry was dead, Eleanor ruled through her favorite son, Richard. Richard the Lionheart rode off to Crusade to seek the Holy Grail of Jerusalem, leaving the Continental holdings inherited from his father in Eleanor’s hands. She was technically regent of England, too, while Richard was on Crusade, but she had spent more than enough time locked away in England during the last 15 years of Henry II’s reign. She left that cold, rainy land to the tender mercies of her youngest son, John, for she finally had what she wanted: control over most of what is now modern France.
Eleanor was unstoppable. She was brave and beautiful and so full of fire that both her critics and her admirers agreed: she was stronger than any woman they had ever seen. She is the strongest woman I have ever had the pleasure to write about, and the most dynamic. She is a woman who would be renowned in any age. Which is why, over 800 years later, we still remember her.
Christy English is the author of The Queen's Pawn, which is out now. The sequel, To Be Queen, is expected out in April of 2011. Her books focus aroud Eleanor of Aquitaine, obviously, and the 12th century Plantagenets. You can visit her website by clicking here.